I have been engaged in a discussion elsewhere regarding my position on abortion. I wanted to run this by the atheistnexus community as the perspectives here are particularly rational and helpful most of the time. Before I start, just know my mind is not made up. That is reason I am starting this discussion. Here are my arguments for my positions, which I openly admit may not be completely sound.

I support the practice of a death penalty. Yet I am resistant to some of the arguments of the pro-choice movement.

Regarding the death penalty, I am aware of the problem of wrongful convictions. This is a problem for the legal system. But in principle, I have no problem putting criminals to death that lack any hope for rehabilitation (mass murderers, genocidal war criminals, etc) if we can know for sure they are indeed guilty. The amount of evidence required needs to be extremely high to justify the death penalty. But if overwhelming evidence exists, then why keep these animals alive?

But abortion to me is the killing of innocent infant humans. It is a matter of location. If the child was only one minute 'old', having exited the womb, then killing the child would be murder. But because it is still inside a woman, we give it a different term 'abortion' and make it a choice. Isn't abortion just a nice way of saying unborn-infant-murder?

A common argument is that of choice. It is a matter of a woman's right to make decisions that affect her body. The pro-choice movement treats the opposition as weirdos that want to pass laws restricting what she can and cannot do with her own body. I feel they miss the point completely. There are TWO bodies in question, and the laws restricting abortions address the OTHER body - that of another human - living inside the woman. 

I understand there is a huge grey area here. When does the fetus become a human with the intrinsic right to life? Is it only when the brain has developed? But at what point in the brain development? I get it. It is not an easy question. That is why I do not actively oppose the pro-choice movement. I am still collecting information on the subject to refine my position. I certainly don't support the pro-life movement either. I am currently unable to form a completely justified position either way. 

I can see abortion as necessary or preferable in the cases of rape or to protect the mother's life. That makes sense. In other cases, where it is just promiscuity that resulted in an unwanted pregnancy, I feel a vacuous moral subjectivity seeping into society. 

I also do understand that for the vast majority of mothers, the decision to have an abortion is not an easy one and continues to affect them emotionally well after the event. But that is how it should be. We should not be just OK with the idea of killing infants. It should be taboo. Abortion should be thought of as terrible, whether you support the practice or not. Would this perspective of taboo discourage irresponsible sexual encounters? Would this would discourage inception when not in stable healthy relationships? For some who have abortions for selfish reasons, it certainly does not seem that the taboo nature of the act has any affect on their habits. It is not unheard of for some women to get multiple abortions in their life time. How the heck does that happen? 

And of course, 99% of the time, this only applies to people willing to engage in unprotected sex. Why on Earth would you engage in irresponsible unprotected sex? Accidentally? Broken condoms?

I have no problem with recreational sex. But we have several highly effective birth control methods. If a woman is on the pill and the male uses a condom, the chances for an unwanted pregnancy approach zero. If for some reason a birth control method fails, adoption is an option preferable to the death of a human. 

Abortion is not a birth control method. It is a life control method - the act following a decision to kill an innocent human. It is a decision we give no other person in society. It is illegal in ALL other cases to kill an innocent human. But since it is a woman, and the human in question is inside her, we grant the woman this unique ability, even in cases where the pregnancy was just due to irresponsibility. 

So please be kind and help me out here. I am not going to bash anyone's personal position on the matter as I want my own position to be as sound and fair as possible. I just want to hear the opinions, specifically from people with superior understanding and life experience. I might challenge a bad argument, but it only be to seek clarification, not as an attack on any individuals beliefs.

Specifically, my questions are as follows:

1. In the case of irresponsible conception, why do we permit women to kill another human?

2. If it can even be answered, when does a human fetus get the intrinsic right to life? This is an unalienable right of all Americans (and all humans, I would argue. When does this right kick in?

3. Why are many atheists opposed to the death penalty but absolutely (in all cases/situations) pro-abortion? How is that at all morally consistent?

4. Is the practice of abortion detrimental to the social health of our society? Is the religious right to blame for a lack of sex education?

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Luara, I like your post.  It has a couple of ideas and a lot of information I've never heard before.

The idea of giving a convict the option of suicide is something I've never heard before, and it sounds like a very good idea.  Thanks.

I also strongly agree that "The idea that the state has the right to force anyone to continue living, is atrocious."

Something to watch out for: as long as we believe in banning "cruel and unusual" punishments, we don't want to encourage mistreatment and abuse -- by staff or prisoners -- that could encourage a prisoner to end their life.

But about suicide in general: in the book I mentioned previously, Causing Death and Saving Lives, Jonathan Glover advocates rescuing and treating someone who attempts suicide, on the presumption that they're "not themselves", that if we don't know otherwise, it's more likely that they're suffering from treatable depression than that they rationally decided, in character, to kill themselves.

Yes, a sentient being with autonomy and self-determination might make a considered decision to end their own life. That would be generally "unthinkable" given our usual strong desire to continue living -- and it's no surprise that we evolved that way!

(I read about some Roman Catholic leader saying recently that even people experiencing great, intractable suffering still have an obligation to continue living for as long as they can, in order to give glory to God. Their lives are "not their own"; their lives "belong to God". How messed up is that?!

Then again, if the religious believers who preach about the wonders of heaven truly believed in it, then suicide and abortion would be sacraments!)

Then again, if the religious believers who preach about the wonders of heaven truly believed in it, then suicide and abortion would be sacraments!)

THAT would be a way to end religion!

Good posting, Chris, but here's how they get around it. There's an old story in fundy churches how the preacher asked everyone in the congregation to raise their hands if they wanted to go to heaven. One little boy didn't raise his hand. The preacher asked him again if he wanted to go to heaven. The boy replied, "yes, but I thought you were getting a group together to go right now." Then the whole congregation laughs!

What it means is you have to be dead to go to heaven, and everybody wants to live. If you are not dead you are suddenly "transformed" or maybe "translated" etc. You do not get to heaven in your present state of life. These people all claim they have "faith" and that they have "blessed hope" and say they believe in "things not seen."

To me it means they know it is all make believe.

My daughter was over yesterday and I learned that my parents were really crushed when I dropped out of the ministerial studies. Her husband asked me if I still believed, and I said "no." I gave some examples of logic against belief. My daughter said she had "faith" and I told her faith was believing in things she knew was not so. Her reply was more like a definition of "hope" and she told me she did believe in things not seen.

They want to believe it because nobody wants to die. Deep down none of them really believe it. This is why Ken Ham will tell you today that "god is under attack." Why can the almighty god not defend himself?

@laura, that's one of the best arguments I've heard. On both the death penalty and free choice.
What gets me is just how fast abortion wouldn't be an issue if men were the ones who got pregnant. Just like viagra has never been but birth control is still up for debate. It's more male bs.

Just my 2 cents worth here.

IF you find without a doubt that the person convicted of murder is guilty, then apply the death penalty. The one thing you can be sure of is that this person will not kill anybody again. In that way the death penalty is a deterent. First we have to get rid of dishonest prosecutors and judges. Use all trial evidence, etc.

Call abortion whatever you want to. A woman's body is not "an oven baking a child." An unborn fetus has no rights because it is not yet born. Not in favor of abortion at 8 months, but a woman should have control of her own body, and abortion is not birth control.

To solve our issues here I say:

Make ALL trial information available and hold everyone accountable to do so allowing strict legal penalties to enforce justice.

Make sex education mandatory in ALL schools.

IF you find without a doubt that the person convicted of murder is guilty, then apply the death penalty. The one thing you can be sure of is that this person will not kill anybody again. In that way the death penalty is a deterent.

Life without parole also prevents the person from killing again.

The death penalty doesn't actually seem to deter crime, with the usual interpretation of deterrence. You might think it would, but it seems that in first-degree murder (planned ahead), when the death penalty might be used, the person expects to get away with it. 

"Beyond a doubt" guilty is subjective and would be subject to the same prejudices, appeals etc. that there are now.  Juries in the USA are supposed to convict only if the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.  But it seems like they often use a simpler standard - whether they think the defendant did it or not.  

Life without parole might prevent that person from killing again, but the cost of it to taxpayers is outrageous! My remark meant that this particular person would not kill again and also not be a financial burden.

In discussions that involve ethics and morality, a "rights" perspective is very important. 

Why?  Because without rights "handed down by God", nonbelievers are in danger of adopting a "least harm" standard for morality.  The problem with this is that it's not possible for us, from our limited perspective, to estimate the harms.  We can't predict the future (because of the second law of thermodynamics).  And some of the harms are intangible and rather abstract to people caught in the heat of the moment.  A "least harm" perspective leads to a society none of us would want to live in.  For example, you could argue on a "least harm" basis that medical experiments on prisoners in Auschwitz were justified.  There are lots of benefits to being able to do medical experiments on humans versus animals, and those experiments could benefit far more people than were tormented, by the improving medicine.  But a society where people could be grabbed and tormented in medical experiments isn't a society we would want to live in. 

I would say that our consciousness is the fundamental miracle of the universe.  That the universe could generate, just by laws of physics, an awareness of itself.  The universe somehow transcended itself.  And we do not have the right to destroy this fundamental miracle in human beings.  So each conscious human being has a right to life. 

Having a rights perspective simplifies things.  It means you start with a right - then as a society we deal with the consequences. 

It's from a rights perspective that I'm in favor of legalizing drugs that are used primarily to alter consciousness.  People have the right to alter their consciousness, when they are adults and we know they can make their own choices.  If there are bad consequences of legalizing such drugs, we as a society should deal with those consequences - by education, by laws against driving impaired, etc. 

In your Auschwitz example I would argue that the medical experiments conducted there were more as a means of torment than a scientific endeavor to solve real problems.

The scientific reasons were most likely a rationalization. But medical experiments could be done on human beings that would have a good scientific justification, that's the point - things that we shouldn't allow.

The Nazis regarded Jews almost as insects.  Made soap and lampshades out of them. 

Trying to evaluate each situation individually is subject to rationalizations for choosing what's best for the chooser.  As well as peoples tendency to ignore the intangible and abstract in favor of the concrete and short-term.  That's why guiding principles like not killing are important.  They support the importance of the benefits that are long-term or intangible or abstract, in times when people are liable to forget those things. 

With abortion, I don't know exactly how late in pregnancy it should be allowed.  But before 6 months, when it seems the fetus really can't be conscious, usually should be plenty of time for a decision.

Is there not evidence that whales, elephants, and other animals exhibit an awareness of self that borders on sentience?

They may well be conscious though probably less so than people.  I believe in animal rights but not on par with human rights.

I agree with you 100%. No one has control over my body.

Death Penalty vs Abortion and Social Taboos



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